BY Advocate Contributors

September 21 2009 3:00 PM ET

“Happy birthday . . . to you,” she cooed, her voice a sexy—and maybe
just a tad off-key—whisper. “Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday . .
. Mr. Pre-si-dent. Happy birthday to you.” The room continued its rowdy
response as she did her best to give her public what it wanted—an
unmistakable and very specific memory of Marilyn Monroe. Finishing the
first chorus, she motioned for the audience to join in—“Everybody! Happy
birthday . . .” The crowd responded to her invitation by taking up the
song and trying to follow her somewhat erratic, arm-waving conducting.

After she finished her performance, a man approached Marilyn from
behind. While the cameras cut to a birthday cake being wheeled in, she
was escorted from the stage and away from a moment in which she had
wanted to participate: President John F. Kennedy climbing the stairs to
the stage to say a few words of appreciation. Marilyn had wanted to
simply give him a quick peck and then shuffle back offstage. Yet there
were many who felt that she was too unpredictable that night, too
erratic. “Yes, there was some anxiety surrounding her appearance,”
recalled Diahann Carroll. “I can’t say that I knew why, or what was
going on. But I do remember a certain level of . . . tension. Some
people were quite . . . edgy.”

Once
backstage, Marilyn heard the president express his gratitude for her
performance. “Now I can retire from politics,” he said, “after having
‘Happy Birthday’ sung to me in such a sweet and wholesome way.” A
couple of months prior, she had told JFK how her ex-husband, Joe
DiMaggio, wanted her to retire from show business to be his wife. Now,
hearing his words, a look of astonishment crossed her face. Later, she
would ask his sister, Pat Kennedy Lawford, if he had made the statement
for her benefit. The reasonable response to her question was most
certainly no. However, at that point, Marilyn’s supply of reason had
been dwindling for  quite some time. She had begun living her life in
clearly defined segments of clarity and confusion. For years Marilyn
Monroe had been able to use her craft to perpetuate an illusion.
Indeed, the star that people saw toward the end of her life was but a
shell game—a well-crafted presentation of someone who had disappeared
years ago . . . that is, if she ever really existed.


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